My Week in Movies: Jan. 15-21

Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942) A frustratingly oddball WWII dramedy in which Ginger Rogers (too slowly) realizes her arms dealing Austrian baron hubby is a Nazi. With Cary Grant as the good-hearted journalist who shows her the light (and eventually steals her heart, natch), Honeymoon awkwardly bounces between clever comedy bits, unclever comedy bits, clumsy thrills (the film’s second half finds Rogers recruited to be a spy of sorts), broad wartime propagandist melodrama, and a scene in a concentration camp that certainly hasn’t aged well at all, considering then-and-now knowledge of such places. The whole thing’s just bizarre enough to remain watchable out of curiosity, although I wouldn’t call that a recommendation. No relation to the infamous musical short, by the way.

White Heat (1949) James Cagney may have made a handful of gangster pictures after White Heat, but this one feels like the final word in his particular brand of you-dirty-ratting. It’s a grand, demented work, part police procedural, part psychological drama, part standard crime thriller, with Cagney’s bombastic performance at its core.

Easy Living (1937) Written by a young Preston Sturges, Easy Living is vintage screwball, complete with outlandish plot contrivances, bumbling millionaires, sassy dames, and food fights. Oddly, the romantic chemistry between Jean Arthur and Ray Milland is only so-so while the comic chemistry between Arthur and Edward Arnold is electric. Heck, Arthur’s electric on her own throughout the whole thing, as per usual.

No Time for Sergeants (1958) I get the sneaking feeling the lampooning on display here played better to draft-era veterans than it does now. The schtick of seeing Andy Griffith’s bumpkin Forrest Gump his way through Army training, sending up the traditions by taking them so literally, wears thin as the two hours drag on – the final half hour sees the laughs diminish as the scale of the comedy grows larger – and to a viewer without a sense of reference, laughs based on identifiable situations don’t entirely click. It works passably in pieces (a small scene with Don Knotts is enough to make the film worth catching), but I can’t help but wish things were a little less conservative and a little more anarchic.

Rio (2011) Sigh. After a lovely opening credits sequence, in which I became convinced I was in for something heartfelt and charming instead of the usual formulaic cartoon romp, Rio quickly devolved into the usual formulaic cartoon romp. The “talking animal finds his way home” routine plays like a clever story that got script doctored to death; it’s not enough Finding Nemo and too much Madagascar (or, to stick with the director’s own work, not enough Ice Age and too much Ice Age 3). And while Carlos Saldanha has a great eye for breathtaking visuals, they’re wasted on the sort of movie that just throws a pile of mediocre wisecracks and grating dance numbers and some generic lessons of self worth at the screen. I was still hoping the movie might salvage itself, but then Jamie Foxx said “Baby got beak.” (Side note: Sérgio Mendes co-wrote some of the film’s better music, which is nice, because I didn’t know Sérgio Mendes was still alive*.)

Attack the Block (2011) It’s a risky move: create lead characters which are utterly unlikeable, forcing the audience to actively question the motives of the story, only to slowly turn the tables, leaving us rooting for them as heroes by film’s end. Joe Cornish pulls it off, cleverly adding depth to what sounds on paper to be a shallow crowd pleaser, but he does so in a way which sneaks up on us, making the table-turn all the more satisfying when we realize it’s happening. Oh, and it’s a darn fine monster flick, too.

*Turns out Sérgio Mendes has been actively recording music and releasing music all this time. Some of it was with the Black Eyed Peas, though, so I’m not sure if it counts.

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